There are some things to like among the broad points made in Gov. Gary Herbert's 10-year Strategic Energy Plan. But the framework for energy development put together by the governor's task force of industry representatives and state officials does not do enough to promote renewable energy.
It calls for "strategic tax incentives without favoring one energy source over another." That means renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal won't get the government support they need in order to compete with coal and the favorable tax position fossil-fuel development has enjoyed for decades. And the plan calls for more drilling permits on public lands, though there are hundreds of permits not being used.
It would make more sense to "favor" clean, renewable-energy sources with tax incentives just to let them begin to catch up with extraction industries. Coal mines, for instance, pay no extraction royalties. More than 80 percent of Utah's electricity now comes from coal-fired power plants, and the icky air we breathe proves it. No wonder it's called King Coal.
Utah's conservative government is not about to encourage renewable energy at the expense of coal, oil or natural-gas developers, and, indeed, the plan emphasizes that Utah will let market forces drive energy development, with the state merely providing bare-bones regulatory guidelines.
Fortunately, the plan does emphasize conservation and efficiency. The task force said the state will get involved in transportation and urban planning, including more compressed natural gas and electric fueling stations and alternatives to traditional one-person-one-vehicle transportation, including mass transit, biking and walking. Since we don't know the details, the most we can say is that it sounds awfully good.
We're less enthusiastic about another option to gasify biomass dead wood harvested from the state's beetle-ravaged forests. We don't see that as an ongoing resource. And Herbert's plan still calls for more study of nuclear power, despite the ongoing crisis in Japan and its implications.
The plan is full of good intentions. But it will take a lot more than that to turn this ship around.
Forty-seven percent of Utah's energy production is from coal, 40 percent from natural gas, 12 percent from oil and the remaining 1 percent from renewables.
Utah has enormous potential for clean, renewable energy and the jobs and research dollars it can bring. The state should focus on that, rather than clinging to ever-dirty fossil fuels and even dirtier air.
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